Waste not, want what you eat | Moment's Notice

By Maria A. Montalvo | Nov 14, 2018

Elections are stressful, and this year is definitely more difficult than most. As I write this column, we do not yet know the outcome of the national and local elections. Rather than watch or listen to any more political ads or conjecture, I find myself turning to the thing that can be so soothing for the soul – food.

Savoring favorite dishes or discovering new ones is important, but creating new flavors can be truly meditative.

The act of imagining and creating a meal, whether from leftovers or random bits left in the refrigerator or from fresh ingredients purposefully bought, makes time melt away and reduces my focus down to the chopping, peeling, cutting, combining, sautéing, and broiling or baking.

In the early 2000s, the slow-food movement captured this concept and catapulted to popularity with the concurrent celebrity status of chefs.

The Slow Food organization had been established a decade earlier to highlight how our transition to a fast life made us less capable of valuing and enjoying all of life’s quiet, material pleasures, like cooking and eating.

Nothing speaks to this more than the growing isolation of people in all aspects of their lives, including mealtime.

Americans eat alone more than we ever have before in our history – nearly half of all our meals. Gathering with friends or family for every meal has been replaced by a protein bar or shake, a bag of food in the car, or mealtimes in households dictated by activities.

We snack more, and the ritual of eating together is seen as an unavoidable casualty of life or, at best, a luxury often not afforded. We do not value the ceremony of dining the way we did in the past. We eat as a mechanical function.

But we are not eating less; we are eating far more. We are also producing more food … and wasting it.

More than 40 percent of the food produced and sold in the United States is thrown away. Thrown away, never touched.

That is more than $1 billion in cost of production, contributes to deforestation (10 percent of wilderness has been destroyed in the last 20 years to create more land for food production), and contributes to greenhouse gases at extraordinary rates.

Ninety percent of all U.S. food scraps go into a landfill, rather than being composted, and food does not break down efficiently in that environment. The average American throws away $1,500 in food every year, and that’s nothing compared to the food waste from supermarkets.

It’s food that could be used to feed the one in five Americans who do not have a healthy diet or enough food to eat.

Think of some of the classic dishes from the past and how they came out of creativity and necessity. Bouillabaisse was a result of French families needing to use fish heads and vegetable scraps, and it is now a beloved classic dish.

What we could not find a use for in feeding ourselves we would feed to animals, but now we produce grain for the sole purpose of animal feed (thereby exacerbating the cycle of waste).

Thinking about how much food we waste is not helping to dispel my anxiety over the elections, but cooking does, and learning about how much we waste has inspired me to use as much food as we bring home and compost anything I cannot integrate into a dish.

It’s healthier for me by challenging my inventiveness and giving me ritual, and is healthier for the world. Perhaps we can find the magic trick that will recondition our political discourse, as well.

Note: To learn more about this issue, I recommend watching a documentary called “Wasted: The Story of Food Waste,” narrated by the late Anthony Bourdain.

 

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